musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Dance music of renaissance and baroque

[I] "Musica Nova - Harmonie des Nations, 1500-1700"
Hespèrion XXI
Dir: Jordi Savall
rec: April 6 - 7, 2017, Cardona, Castell de Cardona (Collegiata de Sant Vicenç)
AliaVox - AVSA9926 (© 2018) (77'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I/ES/CA
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance] [Danze veneziane, 1500] anon: Pavana del Re; Galliarda la Traditora; El Todescho; Saltarello; [Musica nova, 1540] Girolamo PARABOSCO (c1524-1557): Ricercare XIV 'Da Pacem'; [Ricercari & Capricci, 1589] Giovanni Battista GRILLO (?-1622): Capriccio V; Andrea GABRIELI (c1532/33-1585): Ricercar VII; [Elizabethan & Jacobean consort music, 1612] John DOWLAND (1562-1626): Lachrimae Pavan; The King of Denmark Galliard; Orlando GIBBONS (1583-1625): In nomine a 4; William BRADE (1560-1630): Ein Schottisch Tanz; [Ludi Musici Hamburg, 1621] Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Paduan V; Courant Dolorosa IX; Allemande XVI; Galliard Battaglia XXI; [Corona melodica, 1644] Biagio MARINI (1594-1663): Passacaglia a 4; [La Cetra, 1673] Giovanni LEGRENZI (1626-1690): Sonata VI a 4 viole da gamba; [Le concert de violes à la cour de Louis XIV, 1680] Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704): Concert pour quatre parties de violes (H 545); [Folías & danzas ibéricas, 1680-1700] Pedro DE SAN LORENZO (17th C): Folia (Obra de 1° tono X); Pedro DE ARAUJO (c1610-c1700): Consonancias de 1° tom; Juan Bautista José CABANILLES (1644-1712): Corrente italiana

Jordi Savall, Philippe Pierlot, Sergi Casademunt, Lorenz Duftschmid, viola da gamba; Xavier Puertas, violone; Xavier Díaz-Latorre, archlute, theorbo, guitar; Enrike Solinis, archlute; Pedro Estevan, percussion, bells

[II] Jean-Féry REBEL & Georg Philipp TELEMANN: "Terpsichore - Apothéose de la Danse baroque"
Le Concert des Nations
Dir: Jordi Savall
rec: July 21, 2017 (live), Graz, Helmut List Halle
AliaVox - AVSA9929 (© 2018) (77'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/I/ES/CA
Cover & track-list

Jean-Fery REBEL (1666-1747): Fantaisie; La Terpsichore; Les Caractères de la Danse; Les plaisirs champêtres; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Overture in G 'La Bizarre' (TWV 55,G2); Overture & Conclusion in B flat (TWV 55,B1 & 50,10)

Marc Hantaï, Yi-Fen Chen, transverse flute; Alessandro Pique, Vincent Robin, oboe; Joaquim Guerra, bassoon; Manfredo Kraemer, Mauro Lopes, Guadelupe del Moral, Kathleen Leidig, David Plantier, Alba Roca, Santi Aubert, violin; Éva Posvanesz, violin, viola; Angelo Bartoletti, Giovanni de Rosa, Lola Fernández, viola; Balász Máté, Antoinette Ladrette, cello; Xavier Puertas, double bass; Josep Maria Marti, theorbo, guitar; Marco Vitale, harpsichord; Pedro Estevan, percussion

"New! New!" That is a buzz word in commercials of our time. The fact that something is claimed to be new, whether that is true or not, seems to exert a strong attraction to people. We know such claims from music history as well. The most famous of them is probably the collection of monodies which Giulio Caccini published in 1601 with the title Le nuove musiche. However, the whole idea of a singer performing as a soloist and putting the text into the centre was not as new as Caccini pretended.

The first of the two discs under review here takes its starting point at another publication which claimed to include 'new music'. Glen Wilson, in the essay accompanying his recording of the complete keyboard works by Marco Antonio Cavazzoni, writes: "The (...) Musica Nova of 1540 marks a watershed in the development of the ricercar, and of instrumental music in general. Here, ephemeral improvisation is set aside, and the new imitative style is transferred to the keyboard (and to consorts of other instruments if so desired), in works of a length and complexity which might exhaust and confound a church choir." Jordi Savall selected Girolamo Parabosco's Ricercare XIV, with the additional title Da pacem, to illustrate the groundbreaking character of this edition. (This piece is played on the harpsichord by Glen Wilson in the above-mentioned recording.)

The programme aims to document the development of instrumental music during the 16th and 17th centuries. It focuses on music for an ensemble of instruments; music for single instruments, such as keyboard and plucked instruments, is omitted or is played with an ensemble of viole da gamba. The latter is a legitimate option in the case of the collection Musica Nova, but in general there was no watershed between instruments able to play polyphonic music and an instrumental ensemble.

Two genres are included here. On the one hand we hear dance music, certainly the oldest form of instrumental music, which was already known in the Middle Ages. Dances were often played in pairs of contrasting pieces, such as passamezzo and saltarello or pavan and galliard. In the course of time such pairings were extended to larger sequences, generally known as suite. Pieces which were formally separated, could be put together to suites by performers. Here we have a specimen in four dances from the collection Ludi Musici of 1621 by Samuel Scheidt. The Concert pour quatre parties de violes by Marc-Antoine Charpentier is an example of a fixed suite, opening with a prélude, which is followed by an allemande, a rondeau, two gigues and a passacaille. It is one of the latest pieces in music history intended for a consort of viols, in which all the voices are treated on equal footing. Another specimen of a genre which was in the process of becoming obsolete, is the Sonata VI a 4 viole da gamba by Giovanni Legrenzi.

The closing passacaille in Charpentier's Concert is an example of a piece based on a ground bass. a highly popular genre in the 17th and the early 18th centuries. This is the second thread in the programme. Such pieces were written across Europe. In England it was called a ground, French composers preferred the passacaille and chaconne, which were included in numerous suites and were a fixed part of operas, whereas Italian and Spanish composers liked to write pieces over a particular basso ostinato, known as Folia (Pedro de San Lorenzo), alongside passacaglia (Biagio Marini) and ciaconna.

This disc is a bit like a looking back on his career by Jordi Savall. In his personal notes in the booklet he refers to the ensembles in which he has played from early in his career to the present day, mentioning the people with whom he has worked - musicians, but also producers of the various record companies. In fact, this disc is more or less a survey of the music he has played and recorded over the years. Savall's career has been - and still is - impressive, and in this repertoire he is at his most convincing - more than in some of the large-scale 'multi-cultural' projects he has focused on in recent years. He is surrounded here by top-class artists, with whom he often works. This results in a strong stylistic coherence. The music played here is mostly relatively well-known, but if it is played at this level, that should not withhold anyone from adding this production to his collection.

The dance is one of the threads in the programme of "Musica Nova", and from that angle the second disc is a kind of sequel, even though it is not meant as such. In the renaissance dances were mostly intended for dancing. This changed during the 17th century. As New Grove puts it: "The enormous amount of dance music composed during this period falls into two broad and overlapping categories: dance music composed to set dancers in motion and dance music intended for listening." In particular the form of the suite is an example of the second category, although one has to add that such music was probably in the first place intended for amateurs to play. Such suites were written for single instruments, such as keyboard and plucked instruments, for one or several melody instruments and basso continuo, as well as for larger formations. The latter kind was especially popular in Germany. Rulers came under the spell of the splendour at the French court and wanted their chapels to play the kind of music which was performed in France. In the early 18th century composers aimed at mingling the French style with their own tradition and the modern Italian style. This resulted in a large repertoire of orchestral suites, also known as ouvertures; Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the main exponents of this genre.

This disc includes two specimens of his output. The Overture in G (TWV 55,G2) is scored for strings and basso continuo. Its title, La Bizarre, is well deserved, considering its uncommon features. It consists of an overture and several then common dances, such as courante, gavotte, sarabande and a pair of menuets. However, the fourth movement is a branle, the name of a dance which was popular in the 15th and 16th centuries. This movement is also notable for the fact that the four parts all have their own time signatures: allabreve, 6/4, 2/4 and 6/8 respectively. The opening ouverture is also remarkable. It has the conventional ABA structure: the A section is in a dotted rhythm and a slow tempo, but the second violin follows its own route and plays quavers and semiquavers. The B part is a fugue in a fast tempo, but again the violin has its own thematic material and does not participate in the fugue. The sixth movement is a fantasie and this suite ends with a character piece, Rossignol. The singing of the nightingale is depicted by the first violin, playing demisemiquavers, triplets and tonal repetitions.

The Overture in B flat (TWV 55,B1) is scored for two oboes, strings and basso continuo and is taken from the third Production of Telemann's Musique de table. This large collection of instrumental music received much attention after the composer advertised its publication in a Hamburg newspaper. The price was considerable, but that didn't have a negative effect on the response. No fewer than 206 copies were ordered in advance, from all over Europe. Subscribers included famous masters, such as Johann Joachim Quantz, Johann Georg Pisendel, Michel Blavet and George Frideric Handel. Each Production opens with an ouverture and suite for orchestra and closes with a Conclusion with the same scoring as the overture. In between are three pieces of chamber music: a solo - for one instrument and bc -, a trio and a quartet. In addition each production contains a concerto for two or three instruments, strings and bc. When the Ouverture is performed separately, it is common practice to close with the Conclusion; that is the case here as well. Among the dances are some less common, such as the bergerie - a dance of a pastoral character - and a badinage, also known as badinerie. This suite also includes a character piece, as was common in French suites of the time: Postillons. The various movements have strongly contrasting tempo indications.

Telemann was a great admirer of the French style, and therefore it makes sense to combine two of his works with music by his French contemporary Jean Féry Rebel. Whereas Telemann's suites were not for dancing, the pieces by Rebel were intended as ballet music, and were written for performance in the theatre. He was educated as a violinist and harpsichordist; from the age of eight he received lessons from Lully. In 1705 he was one of the violinists in the 24 Violons du Roi and became batteur de mesure in that ensemble as well as in the orchestra of the Opéra. Later he gradually gave up his positions in favour of his son François. Rebel has become best-known for Les Elémens, a symphonie de danse. That piece has been recorded many times, unlike the pieces included here, although Les Caractères de la Danse is also rather well-known. It is a short survey of most of the then common dances, which are presented in a sequence of very short sections, mostly lasting between 15 and 40 seconds. It includes two movements with the title of sonate, which shows Rebel's openness towards the Italian style. Terpsichore has an appropriate title, as this was one of the nine muses and the goddess of dance and chorus. The first four movements have only tempo indications; the remaining three are two siciliennes en rondeau and a gigue, the latter with the title L'Angloise. The title Les plaisirs champêtres refers to the countryside; no wonder it includes two musettes, the first of them even opening the work. The Fantaisie was one of Rebel's most successful pieces; it was published in 1729 and performed several times that year. It continued to be staged until 1742. Notable is that it includes two chaconnes, the second being a partial reprise of the first. This ground bass was one of the most popular forms in France, and it appears in three of the four pieces by Rebel performed here; Terpsichore is the exception.

As one may expect from Jordi Savall and his ensemble, the performances are lively and vibrant, and include some strong contrasts in tempo. I am not entirely happy with the acoustic of the Helmut List Halle in Graz, where these performances were recorded live. The sound of the orchestra suggests a larger ensemble than one would expect on the basis of the list of players in the booklet. Especially the two suites by Telemann suffer from that. A disadvantage of a combination of Rebel and Telemann in a live performance is that there is no difference in constitution: Rebel is performed here with an orchestra whose line-up is based on Italian models. From a historical point of view the French orchestra - with three different instruments for the middle voices - would have been preferable. That does not diminish my appreciation for this disc. Especially the four pieces by Rebel are excellent works which attest to the original and brilliant mind of the composer.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Hespèrion XXI
Le Concert des Nations

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